Posted by: shannonc | August 24, 2010

Walk, part 2

Event report:  Great Vista BN Ch, continued

Pony #14

So, where were we?  Of course – we were at the good part.  The part at which I get eliminated for fashion violations:

Yes, it was soggy.  Peel-your-clothes-off soggy.  Soggy as in a full 24 hours after my test, I put my dressage coat on the front seat of my truck so I’d remember to take it to the dry cleaner’s, and it left a big, huge, bleeding wet spot.

In the bog and the sog, we prepared to run xc.  I was not too worried about the pony on the footing, because last year it rained at every event, and he didn’t care.  He has barefoot surefootedness.  He has a little slip every now and then, but nothing big and it doesn’t trouble him. 

I more or less liked the course.  I thought a few things were skinnyish, and there were a few sj-like turns, but I appreciated the course design overall, especially that there was room to get rolling between fences 1 and 2, and that there were no long or severe downhill approaches until fence 6.

I worried somewhat about fence 1, because I think it is healthy to always worry somewhat about fence 1 (which, bless CD Todd Richardson’s heart, was headed toward stabling), but also because it featured flowers, and we’ve been wondering if flowers have tripped a spooky switch in the pony’s brain.  I mentally prepared to engage the autowhack on my way to fence 1 when reviewing the course in my head.

My plan was to ride the pony like he needed to jump every single fence, so I wouldn’t wonder afterward if I had failed in the encouragement department.  A couple of lessons ago I backed off too much because I was worried about how he might be feeling, and it did not improve his confidence.  So positive riding was a very important feature of my plan.

So:  get over fence 1, hanging log with flower ground line.  Move him up on landing and have a nice little (BN) gallop to fence 2, a nice round hay bale roll with ginormous round hay bale roll wings.  Turn to fence 3, my first worry:  a ski ramp with a drop landing eerily similar to the ski ramp with the drop landing he stopped at approximately 200 times a couple of weeks ago.

I decide my plan on this one is to not let him check it out.  Stay behind him, keep his head up and keep my foot on the gas so that he does not recognize the drop landing until it’s too late for him to do anything about it.  This is a different strategy for me, and competitions are generally not the places to test drive new strategies, but my instincts say to go with it.

Fence 3, ski ramp (center), drop landing side

Fence 4 is a small up bank, related to 3, out of the swale.  I’m thinking the jump onto the stone dust landing could be tricky because of the footing difference, but it’s much less intimidating looking when soaking wet :P  I make a mental note not to bring the pony to this too fast.  He’ll need time to look.

Sharp turn uphill and short approach to 5, a big blue barn.  Yes, I am holding the camera straight.  The fence is on the side of the hill.

Right turn and lonnnnggg downhill approach to 6, a grey ramp with big light wood wings built to look like fence gates.  Very wide face, but strange looking.  You will see this one in a moment.  It did cause some stops on course.

Another downhill right turn to fence 7, a very light colored table.  This is the next question that gives me pause, as we have had our issues at table shapes in the past.

I think the next part of the course will be fun.  It’s our first numbered combination:  fence 8, up bank; 9a, log; 9b, down bank.  A mini N/T level question.  Mini questions are my very favorite kinds, so I’m liking it a lot, even though down banks have not been reliable for us of late.  I handwalked him off a couple last week, though, and I could have sworn I saw a light bulb illuminate over his head the first time he followed me down.

I’m also thinking once again that Mr. Richardson is a brilliant man indeed for having given us the practice up bank at fence 4.

The C, btw, refers to Championship course, as opposed to C element.  It was very confusing at times.  Too much alphabet soup for me.

Sharp left turn to fence 10, a very interesting fence – an innocuous looking log, with long stemmed orange plastic flowers arranged on top steeplechase style.  The flower tops arrive at my waist, which means the total height is a minimum of three feet.  I very seriously doubt the pony is going to brush through these:  he will jump the whole thing with room to spare.  The pony doesn’t understand steeplechasing yet.  I definitely wonder if he will find the extra height objectionable.  The pony carries a very accurate onboard yardstick.

I decide that my job on this one will be to hang on.  :)

Notice it is shared with Novice.

Very abrupt left turn now to the water.  By abrupt I mean that a huge jump at 10 will mean that when you land, you will have already overshot the line to 11.  It doesn’t bother me because the water is a little passthrough puddle, and there’s nothing preventing you from swinging back around onto your line.

Long downhill gallop along the side of the hill to fence 12, which I don’t like, because the pony has trained me not to like airy.  It’s a feeder and I plan to make sure that we are no longer coming down the hill when we get straight to it, because I anticipate that I will need to ride it aggressively and I don’t want to be getting sucked down the hill when I try to do that.  It is artfully placed such that the ground does incline slightly on the takeoff side – a tricky little tradeoff, because that same incline accentuates the airiness of it.  Thank you times three to Mr. Richardson.  I am really liking this design stuff.

Little gallop and right turn to fence 13, the boot bench.  I think this is pretty adorable and uncomplicated.  It’s at the far reach of the field, so it’s the most away question, and the woods border it on the left; home is to the right.  Okay, maybe not totally uncomplicated.  But by this time in the course, we should be rolling, and he should be looking for the next fence.

Next, odd hairpinish turn (I wished I had brought a wheel for this course, because there were so many route options) to 14, ditch, on a related line to 15, log.  Fun!  Except for one thing.  The ditch is lined with white stones bright enough to burn your retinas.

Mmmhmm, very natural.  The pony is not especially ditchy, but he is careful.  I am betting he will request a close inspection of this alien ditch lining prior to navigating over it.  Another mental autowhack.  Pony:  go to the log.  Go directly to the log.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  You will just have to trust me on this one.

At this point in the course, I abandoned photo taking – I confess I was more interested in a big dark bay horse loose on xc.  He was galloping and galloping and galloping around, having a grand time, and not worried about returning to stabling at all.

Left turn around a treeline to fence 16, fake ditch and wall with a swale top.  I didn’t think too hard about this fence, but it ended up causing some problems.  Then roll back to a swedish bank with #17, a log, on top (more fun!), rolling left turn to #18, a rolltop, and straight to the finish flags.

So by now, Dear Reader, you have correctly guessed that we did not get all the way around this course.  If you are wondering what happened to us, you are in good company, because I am wondering, too.

It didn’t start badly.  Here are fences 1-3.

I stay behind him but don’t need to go to my stick to fence 1:  flower problem conquered, apparently.  He’s very focused to #2 (see stadium warmup on his left), and happily, my strategy to #3 hits pay dirt.

If you are microanalyzing, which I certainly am, you will notice the teeniest hesitation between 1 and 3 strides out to all three of these fences.  He’s not just setting up, I don’t think.  He’s wondering if it is strictly necessary to get to the other side.

And then, when he jumps, he sort of heaves himself to the landing.  This is not my bold, happy pony who earned oooohs and ahhs from Eric Smiley and Michael Page, and who’d been clean at every event this year since he got his injections until Snowfields.  Oh, except for one stop at the GHF Summer Classic that was shared with half the other BN competitors.  I don’t count that one.  That course was not designed by my good friend Todd Richardson.

On microanalysis I also notice that he’s jumping differently than usual through his shoulder.  Ordinarily, he has a very tight front end, but here, although he’s still folding his knees well, he is not getting his forearms up as horizontally as he normally does.

Video stills from #2 and 3:

Still, he gets over the first four jumps, then turns to #5, the barn, and says I don’t think so.

In keeping with my no-wondering-if-I-rode-enough plan, I give him a whack to remind him “this is your job, pony,” reapproach, and over we go.  Not entirely happily I might add.

Downhill to the funny looking but very wide #6, and stop again.  He quits from so far out and so worriedly that I can barely stand to smack him, but I give a little one.  He figures it out (or agrees to it) the second time over and jumps it fairly well:

Fence 7, the light colored table on the downhill approach, he does not give me trouble at, but neither does he stay straight in the air.  Ditto on the no trouble for the cute mini banks question 8, 9a, 9b.  This is super fun.  I yell to him that he’s a very good boy and a brave pony.

Then at #10 I make a mistake.  I roll up the hill in 2-pt, thinking that especially with the extra height, maybe he will like it better if I just stay up there and let the roundness of the jump influence him to take it in stride.  Bad idea.  He says, “what are you DOING?  Why are you NOT SUPPORTING ME?” and gives me a halfhearted runout to the right.  Okay, I’m falling on the sword for this one.  But I telegraph to him that this is stop #3 – one more and we’re done, pony. 

I do not want to be done.  The pony, as we know, has other ideas.

Interestingly, we hit the perfect distance on reapproach to this obstacle, but he doubts it and ends up scrambling over.  This is the worst fence of the course.  I stay as out of his way as I can, and he goes on gamely with his ears pricked.  Right away I start to talk to him and tell him he’s all right.  We do in fact end up overshooting the distance to the water, but double back without a problem.

He is a good boy through the puddle and I give him a pat.

We trot sideways down the hill to airy feeder, #12, pick up a canter once straight, and he does not want to jump it but I am able to stuff him this time.  Then the boot jump, #13, I whack him over.  I am starting to think we are not having too much of a blast out here…I pat him on landing.  I am thinking that I must remember to reward him, because although I do not understand why he’s feeling the way he is, I do understand that if I don’t reinforce good behavior, things will be even worse.

Since fence #6, I have also been thinking that I need to change my plan to help us get around safely and as positively as possible.  What I decide to do is forget about the time, which is 350 mpm.  I am purely focused on getting over each fence.

I double whack him – behind my leg this time – at the retina-burning ditch and if I’d been a microsecond later, we’d’ve had the stop.  As it was he jumped sideways before leaping over and it was marginal.

He’s grateful that the thing following the ditch is a simple little log, and I pat again.  Then we head to the fake ditch and wall swale, #16, and I do use my stick, but that is the end.  I know as I am smacking him that his shoulder is way too much pointing at the ground for him to pop over, and even though I am not happy he stops, I am glad he stops rather than jumping dangerously.

I am sorry to not finish the course, and I am worried about giving the pony a bad experience, but I am not so much concerned about him ending on a stop.  I should not have had to ride as hard as I did – that is a bigger issue in my mind than the stops themselves.  The fact that I did have to tells me something – I don’t know what it is yet, but it isn’t that my pony was being naughty.  In my gut I am one million percent sure this is not a naughty pony problem. 

When he stops, I look over to the swedishesque bank and say to the people there – one of whom is a fence judge, I think, although I could be wrong – “that’s four for us, we’re done.”  And the fence judge (?) says, “are you fired?”  and I laugh a little and answer, “yup, we’re fired.”  And we walk to the finish, carefully looking out for whomever is behind us.  Someone calls to me, “you have a very cute pony!” and I nearly burst into tears. 

No one yells at us, no one treats us like we’re a couple of idiots unbefitting the BN Championships.  For this I am grateful.  I’m not mad at my pony, but I am very sad, and I am wondering what is wrong.  I am very frustrated, and very confused.

The pony seems somewhat to share these sentiments, because instead of eating hay, he stands with his head hung in the corner of his stall while I pack up to leave.

If this were the pony with whom I did King Oak fall ’09, our first BN, I would think, okay, he’s not confident yet.  But on the balance he was more confident then.  He wasn’t always certain about going, but he did what I asked and got happier every fence, every competition, every clinic until spring ’10 UNH, where we unraveled in fine style.

Then he got his body scan and his joint injections, and climbed sharply uphill again, clean at GMHA, clean (by my count) at GHF, and winning ENYDCTA.

Then Snowfields – a big departure for our first E. 

Now this.

I left Jessie a message yesterday and she called me back this morning.  She had a cancellation, and came to see him this afternoon.  She watched me ride and jump him, she felt him over, she did flexions, she put hoof testers on him, and she watched our video and looked at our photos from this weekend.

I asked her what she thought about my toughest, hardest to ask questions.  One, do you think he has decided he doesn’t want to jump?  And two, do you think I have done something to make him less instead of more confident over time?

She said that she thinks the vast visual and performance inconsistency points toward something physical that we have not put our collective finger on yet.  She thinks he looks keen to the work, but that he isn’t confident about some of the distances he finds, and she did not like the way he landed in a heap afterwards when the confidence was lacking. 

He was quite short in front starting out.  He had a mildly positive left hock and left stifle/suspensory flexion (2, 2+), was negative to hoof testers, was very sore all through his back again, sore in both shoulders, and had an intermittently mildly locking left stifle.

In other words, lots to say, but nothing screaming, “here I am!  The Problem!!”

I should be so lucky.

She’s still thinking – she is working very hard for me on this and I am lucky to have a vet so invested in my pony.  She believes atm that despite the negative hoof testers, we may have a footsoreness problem on our hands.  It is the #1 physical reason horses stop.  She explained to me that there are something like 34 different points in the foot that can hurt and the hoof testers only look at the sole. 

I asked why a horse would work *out* of footsoreness.  I figured if my feet hurt and I walked on them, they’d hurt more.  She gave me a better analogy:  say you twist your ankle.  You get out of bed the morning after, put your foot on the floor, and say ouch!  But then you hobble around a bit and it slowly starts to feel better as it “warms up.”

The choice to make at the end of the day based on what we can figure out so far went something like, put shoes on him and see if that helps, or block his front feet and see if that helps. 

I would very much like to leave him barefoot – although I have no problem putting shoes on him if he needs them for comfort – and I would very much like to understand definitively what is happening, so that I can take care of him right and work him right – so I am opting for the blocks.  Hopefully next week.  Meantime, I will continue the doxy, it does seem to be helping something, even if we are not quite sure what it is.

And that’s the story.

Here is fence 7.  Here is everything from the second approach to fence 10 through our ending at #16.

Whatever you may think, I doubt you will be able to help but love the pony!  We all do.



  1. GAH! Blaring answer my butt! I bet he needs shoes, Shannon ;) Okay, yes, I’m being a tad bit silly here, but honestly it sorta makes sense…..Curious – have you done a “survey” of types of footing he stops on????

  2. BTW Shannon, I DEFINITELY see what you’re talking about with him jumping over his shoulder vs. picking his shoulder up. He is jumping differently for sure :/

  3. I have done a survey, and the results equal nothing. Hard, squishy, in between, all the same – but that doesn’t mean anything, IF he was already footsore. He is definitely the kind of pony who wouldn’t forget, just because one day it felt different underneath his feet. And this is a huge variable between this year and last year, where hardness was no issue at all.

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